Sunday, October 23, 2016

indigenous robotics

Interesting paper on the possible intersection b/w the very old and the very new

From Angie Abdilla's Facebook page:
"Indigenous knowledge is shared via strict coded compression of oral law where spirituality, law, kinship, and science are integrated. To approach such a holistic understanding, Indigenous knowledge systems requires acknowledgement and respect of indigenous culture" -
The authors will be delivering this paper again on Tuesday November 1 at the ATSIMA conference, which I am going to:
Abdilla, Angie and Fitch, Dr. Robert
Australian Centre for Field Robotics & University of Sydney
Indigenous knowledge systems and pattern thinking: analysis of the first Indigenous robotics prototype workshop
- workshop-presentations
Angie Abdilla interviewed by NITV:
“We have thousands of years of experience in designing and creating new technologies - the digital age is no different, the only barrier is access to the technologies,” Abdilla told NITV.

“My connection to Western science has been through a personal curiosity for all new technologies, driven by divergent formats and forms of storytelling. My connection to Indigenous sciences, as an Indigenous woman, is innate.

“Within an Indigenous paradigm, Indigenous Sciences are not segregated but part of all aspects of our culture and lore,” says Angie.

We now see communications and Technologies transforming society, improving our mutual understanding, eliminating power differentials and realising a truly free and democratic world society.
- indigenous-science-core-social-economic-and-political-change
Robert Fitch's reflection on the workshop:
Robotics is known to be an excellent motivational tool for engaging students in STEM subjects; the effect of one’s efforts is immediately and tangibly apparent through the robot’s behaviour. We are interested in employing robotics to engage urban Indigenous youth, and the Symposium provided an excellent opportunity to present our work in developing specialised robotics workshops. We were encouraged by the ensuing discussion of the relationship between robotics concepts and Pattern Thinking, and came away from the Symposium energised to proceed along these lines of thought.
- reflections-indigenous-science-symposium-sydney-2016

why do I need maths?

  1. Mathematics teaches you to admit when you're wrong
  2. To choose exact and correct words
  3. To think several steps ahead
  4. Not like everyone else but in your own way
  5. And never give up
more detail

Saturday, October 22, 2016

the black memory hole

Henry Reynolds has estimated that aborigines killed somewhere between 2000 and 2500 Europeans in the course of the European invasion and settlement of Australia.

He further estimated that at least 20,000 aborigines were killed as a direct result of conflict with the settlers. If anything, the latter estimate errs on the side of caution.

Henry Reynolds claims that he was the first person who tried to quantify the aboriginal death toll. His estimates were first published in The Other Side of the Frontier in 1981 (amazon, review by Humphrey McQueen)

Why are we never told these figures? Why isn't it part of the school curriculum? Our memory of these events has disappeared down a black hole.

Many Australians don't want to look at the dark side of our history. A veil is drawn.

But if these bodies had been white then our history would be full of their story, monuments would be everywhere to celebrate their sacrifice. As we do on Anzac Day.

Henry Reynolds goes onto to document figures that reveal that in the north of Australia twice as many blacks were killed in a 70 year period (1861 to 1930s) as whites (Europeans) were killed in the five wars between the Boer War and Vietnam war, a different 70 year period.

Don't these figures reveal that the black wars were the most significant in Australian history?

Reference: Why Weren't We Told? by Henry Reynolds (1999), pp. 113-116

Thursday, October 20, 2016

percentage and Yolngu: a life and death issue

Yolngu health (Arnhem Land)
From Richard Trudgen, who is acting as an interpreter between David, a Yolngu who appears to understand and speak good English and his doctor, who has been trying without success for 13 years to get David to change his diet.
I asked the doctor to explain diabetes and especially the kidney failure side of things. He said that only two per cent of David kidneys were operating. I had to stop him again and explain what two percent meant because percentage is a concept Yolngu just do not understand. So I drew a kidney shape on a piece of paper and shaded in about two percent. 'That's how much is still working', I told David. 'The rest is, like, "dead".' (99) ...

As mentioned previously, percentage is a concept that Yolngu have great trouble with. As a cultural group they just do not understand it. Even people with seemingly good Western education standards have problems with it.

To use percentage as a quantitative measurement and expect to convey an accurate concept to Yolngu is very dangerous as far as their health is concerned. It was equivalent to saying to David, 'You have only two wup-wups of kidney working.' It gave him no picture at all but simply added to his confusion. David would not even have realised that percentage is a measurement of quantity. The concept is just not understood, so it is very difficult for a patient to frame and ask questions about it.(109)
Reference: Trudgen, Richard. Why Warriors Lie Down and Die (2000)

Trudgen's broader view is that communication between Yolngu and Balanda (whites) breaks down in three related areas (1) Language (2) World view (3) Culture. In this particular case study he documents 8 world view problems and 2 language problems which all contributed to David declining to change his diet (smoking, eating salt and sugar). So, this information about Yolngu not understanding percentage has to be situated in a far broader context. By drawing a diagram of the kidney and shading in 2 parts out of 100 of that diagram, you could say that Trudgen did explain percentage to David, without using the word percentage. Nevertheless, we are still a long way from the concept being internalised and understood fluently.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Can Words Like Belief, Desire, Hope, Fear Be Scientific?

Review and thoughts triggered by “Skinner Skinned” by Daniel Dennett (1978)

Many hate Skinner because his behaviourism implies that people are not free, dignified, morally responsible agents. He does this by reducing all behaviour to probabilities based on past regimes of stimulus and response. Since our responses are conditioned by forces outside of our control when young then our responses in later life are automatic, unconscious, not free.

Nevertheless, Skinner's was driven by the admirable goal of explaining behaviour scientifically. So, when we evaluate Skinner we also evaluate our attitudes to science and the role of scientific world view in our whole life. If we reject Skinner then there is an accompanying danger of rejecting a scientific world view, of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Alternatively, a better pathway would be to develop a more robust and broader view of what it means to be scientific. This is what Daniel Dennett is attempting here.

This preamble serves to highlight the importance of accurately identifying the real mistakes of Skinner. In the past I was satisfied with Chomsky's critique. I now feel that Chomsky's critique is inadequate and leads people to irrationally reject all of behaviourism.

Skinner's enemy is mentalism, that talking about people's behaviour using terms such as beliefs, desires, ideas, hopes, fears, feelings, emotions is not allowed because it is not scientific.

Dennett, however, sees a positive role for these mentalist idioms in explaining behaviour / psychology / mind. So this essay, while acknowledging there is some point to Skinner's objections to mentalism, is about clarifying where mentalism is useful and where it stops being useful and becomes unscientific.

Skinner gives many reasons for disqualifying mentalism:
  1. mental things must be made of non physical stuff (dualism objection)
  2. the mental is private (whereas behaviour is public and objectively measurable)
  3. mentalism appeals to events that can only be inferred
  4. mental events are internal
Chomsky takes (3) as Skinner's prime objection against mentalist psychology but Dennett points out that Skinner is not against inference as such in other passages in his writing. Chomsky Reference: “The Case Against B.F. Skinner”, New York Review of Books (Dec 30, 1971)

However, Dennett points out, through a close reading of Skinner's “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”, that although Skinner uses these arguments occasionally he also qualifies them and contradicts them. So, there must be something else to Skinner's objection to mentalism.

The something else is the virtus dormitiva, the dormitive virtue, defining an effect as its own cause. From Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire, The Imaginary Invalid. What is it in opium that puts people to sleep? Why, it is its sleep producing powers of course!

The key argument of Skinner's objection to mentalism is a little man in the machine, a homunculus.
“The function of the inner man is to provide an explanation which will not be explained in turn” (quoted from Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p. 14)
We must abolish “the autonomous man – the inner man, the homunculus, the possessing demon, the man defended by the literature of freedom and dignity” (Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p. 200)

Dennett is exasperated by Skinner's array of different objections to the little man in the brain: moral agent = little man in the brain = demons. Skinner then sees superstition behind any and every claim of moral responsibility. “Mental” means “internal” means “inferred” means “unobservable” means “private” means “virtus dormitiva” means “demons” means “superstition”.

Nevertheless, Skinner has a point even though he exaggerates his case. There is a real danger in presupposing intelligence when we try to explain intelligence.

When you use a certain vocabulary ( the mentalist words which refer to beliefs, desires, ideas, hopes, fears, feelings, emotions) then does that presuppose intelligence or rationality?

Yes it does. Dennett agrees with Skinner here.

These mentalist terms are called intentional idioms by philosophers.

Quine also is opposed to intentional idioms in psychology. But his objection is different to Skinners. He does not argue that intentional idioms presuppose rationality or offer no explanation. His argument is that we can't translate sentences containing intentional idioms into sentences lacking them, they can't be reduced to the sentences of the physical sciences.

Quine Reference. Word and Object, #45 The Double Standard, pp. 198-203

The issue becomes more complicated because Skinner, unlike Quine, believes, at least in some of his writings, that intentional idioms can be translated into the language of physical science. Dennett argues that Skinner is inconsistent (“sloppy”) in his arguments on this point. More on this later.

Dennett's advice is that we can agree with Skinner that no satisfactory psychological theory can rest on any use of intentional idioms, for their use presupposes rationality, which is what psychology is supposed to explain.

However, Dennett advises us to disagree with Skinner when he takes the further step that intentional idioms therefore have no legitimate place in psychological theory at all.

Dennett argues that we can use intentional idioms as a starting point of explanation provided we are aware of the dangers (of virtus dormitiva, defining an effect as its own cause or the little man in the machine). It is ok to speculate first and explain later in more scientific language.

Returning to Skinner's allegedly sloppy arguments / inconsistency about intentional idioms. Dennett demonstrates through quotations from Skinner that sometimes he eschews intentional language such as “beliefs” and instead argues in terms of changing probabilities. But at other times Skinner argues that intentional words such as belief can be translated into behaviourist (“scientific” in Skinner's view) terminology. But, on balance, Skinner concludes that “scientific', which for him means behaviourist or probabilistic explanations can't co-exist with intentional explanations which cite beliefs, desires etc.

The reason many don't like or hate Skinner is that he wants to take away our personal moral sense, that we, as individuals, possess freedom, responsibility and dignity. By reducing all behaviour to probabilities based on past regimes of stimulus and response this is what Skinner ends up doing.

In contrast, Dennett argues that intentional idioms and scientific language, include stimulus response language, can co-exist in our thinking and description of psychology. Specifically, Dennett is saying that intentional idioms, expressions of belief, desire etc. can be reduced or translated into other more scientific terms, as a consequence of study, research, theorising etc.

Dennett's claim here, as mentioned in this essay is disputed by Quine, who says translation from the intentional to the scientific is not possible. It is also disputed, I believe, by Hilary Putnam, although I need to study more of Putnam before I could accurately state his position.

In the rest of the essay Dennett provides some examples of situations where intentional explanations can co-exist with more reductive scientific explanations. One of Dennett's favourites is the chess playing computer. … “... we know that there is a purely mechanistic explanation of the chess playing computer, and yet it is not false to say that the computer figures out or recognises the best move, or that it concludes that its opponent cannot make a certain move, any more than it is false to say that a computer adds or multiplies.” (p. 64)

This and other examples provided by Dennett (such as someone handing over their wallet when threatened) demonstrate that the only type of explanation allowed by Skinner of always having to provide back to basics, stimulus-response probabilistic reasons is taking a good idea and stretching it too far.

This issue of the limits and usefulness of intentional idioms is one I need to study more. As noted above Quine and Putnam put a more sophisticated argument against than Skinner.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

indigenous maths mentoring program

I would like to assist the indigenous helpers who want to become teachers to grasp maths, along with the more general day to day teaching of taking the students down that path as well. The idea of helping to train the indigenous helpers is particularly appealing, in terms of me feeling that I would be helping “make a difference”.

Further reflection leads me to think there are 4 possible maths pathways:
  1. DI / EMM / JUMP. Direct Instruction (Zig Engelmann) / Elementary Maths Mastery (Rhonda Farkota) / Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies (John Mighton). I am already using parts (modified) of the EMM approach
  2. Indigenous culture. Maths that links to elements of indigenous culture. There is a significant literature about this, eg. the work of Dr Chris Matthews, Dr Alan Bishop, Dr Bronwyn Ewing for starters, but I have yet to trial it.
  3. Computer microworld. Teaching maths through multimedia / computer coding using the Scratch software, the most recent incarnation of Logo. I have a very strong background in this method.
  4. Home grown. Quite often because I feel the textbooks are inadequate I develop my own maths activities to better fit where the class is at. eg. Pythagoras activity requiring the construction of different triangles and modified milk carton volume activity were promising.
Two way street post mortem conversation. A lesson plan is formulated by the teacher / researcher to achieve a learning goal for a class using one or a combination of the above methods. The lesson is taught, with an indigenous helper usually present. Afterwards, a post mortem conversation is held to evaluate effectiveness and possible improvements. This iteration is repeated many times. A mutual exchange of skills and cultural knowledge will take place during this conversation. As the learning process develops the indigenous helper can be invited to trial their own experimental lessons. Both sides of the equation should keep learning journals reflecting on what they have learned and their ideas for the future.

More details at IMMP, including a reference list.